Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay says Dustin Byfuglien will begin camp as defenseman

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buffywithchampbelt.jpgWe touched on the possibility of Dustin Byfuglien moving back to his “natural” defensive position earlier this summer when GM Rick Dudley expressed a preference to do so, but now it’s nearly confirmed as Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay expressed an interest to do the same. That means that Byfuglien, Dudley and Ramsay all would prefer for the burly multi-skilled player to move back to the blueline.

Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been all over this story.

Ramsay said Friday that Byfuglien will come to training camp as a defenseman.

“Dustin Byfuglien will have a chance to play defense,” Ramsay said. “I’ve been told he is a defenseman, he was a defenseman. That was his position and he likes it. He wants to be there. I will give him every opportunity to show us he can play defense. If he can do that, wonderful. That’s great. I look at our defense and I think it can be our strength, a strong point. If Buff can go in and be big and strong on defense, that would be awesome. If it doesn’t work, he’ll go up front. There is no reason we wouldn’t give him every good, solid chance to play the position and find out if he can. That would really solidify us on the back end.”

As a forward, Byfuglien scored 17 regular-season goals for Chicago last season. He scored 11 goals in 22 playoff games en route to the Stanley Cup. Byfuglien was traded to Atlanta in the off-season – one of four players from the championship team to join the Thrashers.

Such a move would seemingly set the top six defensemen of Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya, Brent Sopel and Byfuglien. That would mean players such as Boris Valabik, Freddy Meyer, Arturs Kulda, Jaime Sifers and Andrey Zubarev are in competition for another spot when training camp begins next week. Ramsay said he doesn’t intend to carry players on the roster that aren’t going to play on a regular basis.

It’s great that the Thrashers want to keep Byfuglien happy, but I think he might be more valuable to Atlanta as a forward. Just look at the offensive firepower the team already boasts in the defensive position: Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey all can be useful on the powerplay. While I respect the fact that Byfuglien has a howitzer of a slap shot, I think he might be most useful in the Tomas Holmstrom role of making a goalie uncomfortable on the powerplay. It’s a tough job, but you know what’s a tougher job? Trying to move a 260 lbs. behemoth out of the crease.

The Thrashers are a vastly different team and while Byfuglien may never be a consistent impact player in the NHL, he’s part of a squad that will make things a lot more difficult for opponents. They might not win many more games – at least this season – but they’ll leave their rivals with more bruises. That must count for something, right?

Video: Beagle gets stick stuck in visor

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Through 40 minutes of action in Game 1 of the second round series between Pittsburgh and Washington and we’ve already seen some big moments, along with a pretty unusual one.

Beagle ended up with a stick lodged into his visor towards the end of the second frame. He tried to get it out himself, but ended up having to go to the bench for assistance. You can see that below:

Stamkos close to game shape, but return might be weeks or months away

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) competes in the hardest shot competition at the NHL hockey All-Star game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Steve Stamkos began to practice again on Tuesday and he was back out there on Wednesday and Thursday, which some might interpret as him being close to returning. It seems premature to say that definitively.

“It could be weeks. It could be months,” Stamkos said of his timetable, per ESPN. “That’s the tough part.”

The problem isn’t getting back into game shape after undergoing vascular surgery in early April. He feels he’s already close to reaching that objective. The issue is that Stamkos is on blood thinners, which prevents him from taking any contact. It remains to be seen how long he’ll be on blood thinners.

For what it’s worth, Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy underwent the same surgery and was out for two months and the original timetable provided on April 4 for Stamkos was one-to-three months. So based on that, it sounds like it would be surprising if he returned anytime soon.

Bergeron, Kesler, Kopitar named Selke finalists

Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron celebrates after scoring against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Will Patrice Bergeron join Bob Gainey as the only players to have ever won the Selke Trophy four times?

That’s a distinct possibility after the Bruins center was named as a finalist along with Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler and Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar.

The Selke Trophy honors the league’s top defensive forward and for three of the last four years, that distinction has gone to Bergeron. However, Kesler and Kopitar have been popular with the voters of this award as well.

Kopitar has finished second in the voting in each of the previous two campaigns while Kesler won back in 2011, though he finished outside of the top-five in each of the last three years prior to the 2015-16 campaign.

Among the trio, Kesler excelled this season on the draw with a 58.5% success rate, which was good for second in the league among forwards who took at least 200 faceoffs. Bergeron was up there too, winning 57.1% of his draws while Kopitar posted a 53.5%. Meanwhile, Bergeron ranked seventh in the NHL with 67 takeaways compared to Kesler’s 39 and Kopitar’s 43. Where Kopitar stood out was in plus/minus as he finished second in the league at plus-34. Kesler was plus-five and Bergeron was plus-12.

Kopitar similarly led the trio with a 57.4% Corsi For versus Bergeron’s 55.9% and Kesler’s 52.9%.

Capitals get Orpik back for series opener

Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik (44) celebrates his goal with teammates on the bench during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Washington. The Capitals won 4-3. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik missed half of Washington’s first round series, but he’s back in time for the opener against his former team.

Orpik last played on April 18 and was regarded as questionable going into tonight’s contest against Pittsburgh. He’s expected to be paired with John Carlson throughout the contest.

Washington’s other projected pairings are Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen as well as Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt.

Orpik was limited to 41 games during the 2015-16 regular season, but when he did play he averaged 19:48 minutes per contest. He also recorded 125 hits and 102 blocked shots despite missing half the season. The 35-year-old blueliner got his start with Pittsburgh and played in 703 regular season contests with them and an additional 92 postseason contests. This is his second season with Washington.